Take a sip of Mexican hot chocolate and step back in time. The semi-bitter cinnamon flavored chocolate drink made from cocoa, cinnamon, and chiles, traces its history to the Maya and Aztecs. Taking the form of a coarse tablet form, Mexican chocolate is traditionally consumed as a beverage, but nowadays, chefs are using this old-school sweet in all sorts of delicious desserts and savory dishes.
To better understand Mexican chocolate, you have to take a look at the origins of chocolate itself. During pre-Colombian times, “chocolate was not eaten, it was drunk until well after the Spanish arrived [in Mexico],” says chocolate expert Clay Gordon, author of Discover Chocolate. The Mayans and Aztecs started cultivating the cacao tree and used the ground cacao beans for a chocolate drink. To cover up its bitter flavor, they added native spices and herbs like vanilla and chile to the mixture. Once the Europeans arrived with sugar, the process for making chocolate evolved to include sugar, explains Gordon.
Since the addition of sugar and cinnamon, Mexican chocolate has not changed much. The texture is still grainy, partly due to the lack of refrigeration in the original preparation process. The tablet form allows for easy breaking points when using smaller quantities of the chocolate as an ingredient in recipes.
Traditionally, Mexican chocolate was designed for cooking, not for curbing an afternoon sugar rush. From beverages to cakes, and even savory dishes like mole poblano, Mexican chocolate adds a complex flavor element to recipes, making it a go-to for chefs. “I use Mexican chocolate in everything, including confections, desserts and drinks, like chocolate pralines, Mexican Chocolate Petite Gateux and Mexican Hot Chocolate,” says pastry chef and chocolatier Oscar Ortega from Atelier Ortega in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Harboring a true passion for chocolate, Ortega makes his Mexican chocolate from scratch, even cultivating and harvesting his own cacao. “The cocoa beans I use for my Mexican chocolate mix come directly from my cocoa plantation in Tabasco, Mexico,” he says. Can't get to Wyoming to taste Ortega's decadent recipe? He shares his Atelier Ortega recipe for homemade Mexican Chocolate along with his traditional Mexican Hot Chocolate recipe below.
For the Atelier Ortega Mexican Chocolate Mix
For the Atelier Ortega Mexican Hot Chocolate
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